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Taking the plunge

Dozens plan to jump into icy-cold West River in annual Plunge for Charity event

The Marina Restaurant’s 10th-Annual Plunge For Charity, an all-ages event to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters, takes place at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 3, at The Marina, 28 Spring Tree Rd. (off Putney Road) in Brattleboro. Pledge forms are available at The Marina Restaurant, Youth Services at 32 Walnut St. in Brattleboro, Parks Place at 44 School Street Ext. in Bellows Falls, or online at vermontmarina.com.

BRATTLEBORO—“We’re freezin’ for a reason!” says the announcement for The Marina restaurant’s annual Plunge For Charity.

This year, as they have done every year for the last decade, participants will jump into the West River to raise money for local charitable organizations.

But, they will not wait until the summer sun warms the water.

The Plunge takes place in the very beginning of May — this year on Sunday, May 3, at 3 p.m. — and event organizer Dierdre Baker warns the water temperatures will be “between 38 and 42 degrees."

Baker said that Garet and Catherine Steulstra pick up six people at a time in their stabilized pontoon boat, and take their human cargo to a place in the river where the water is about six feet deep.

Then, they jump in.

There awaits the water-rescue arm of the Brattleboro Fire Department — the Brattleboro Dive Team — “looking up at you through their goggles,” Baker says. The rescue divers help each jumper emerge quickly and safely from the chilly water.

The Dive Team is a past recipient of the Plunge; they bought new scuba gear with the $12,000 that was raised for them in 2009.

Baker gives the history of The Plunge.

“The first time it happened,” in 2003, was “when two Marina employees had birthdays, and on May 1 they jumped into the river,” Baker says.

“I started working there the next year,” she adds, “and I said ‘We should do this for charity.’”

So they did.

Nineteen people jumped into the chilly West River and emerged with $1,500 for Brattleboro’s The Gathering Place. “They bought deck chairs and umbrellas” for the clients to enjoy, Baker says.

Money was raised by people sponsoring the jumpers.

“The next year we raised $9,000 for Hospice. The year after that we raised $10,000 for the Humane Society. Then we raised $12,000 for Windham Child Care,” Baker recalls. The money they raised “kept going up and up and up.”

Last year, close to 40 people took the plunge and raised over $10,000 for Windham County SAFE Kids.

This year, Baker chose Big Brothers Big Sisters as beneficiary, and she hopes “many of the ‘Bigs’ and ‘Littles’ ages 6-18 who are matched for mentoring by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Windham County, a program of Youth Services will join in,” according to the press release.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Windham County is a prevention program of Youth Services, providing mentorship for children ages 6 to 18 throughout Windham County.

Kimberley Diemond, director of mentoring at Youth Services, says she will take the plunge this year for the first time.

Money collected through the Marina Plunge “will help to recruit and train volunteer mentors, support new and ongoing matches, and provide group mentoring activities for children currently on the wait list,” Diemond says. “BBBS currently serves 100 local families with an equally long waiting list.”

Baker says she alone chooses the recipients of each year’s Plunge.

“It’s a one-girl show,” says Baker, noting there’s no committee; along with one helper, Baker plans and organizes the entire event. Her criteria for beneficiaries is, “it has to be local, and the money has to benefit this community."

The Plunge “is one of my favorite things in the entire world,” Baker, who is being treated for cancer, says that even though her doctor has instructed her not to not take the plunge, she still plans to “go in up to my knees.”

Baker’s 17-year-old son now takes the plunge for his mom.

“Dress up! Have fun!” Baker encourages participants.

“Wear costumes. I do!” she adds, noting the year the beneficiary was the Windham County Heat Fund, Baker dressed up as a chimney sweep. And when Rescue Inc. was the beneficiary, she dressed as a nurse.

“Costumes don’t have to be associated with the theme, but I do it that way,” she says.

She encourages interested parties to “download sponsor sheets, get sheets at the Marina, or just show up that day."

“There is no minimum you have to raise in pledges in order to participate,” she says.

For those who have cold feet about taking the plunge themselves, Baker invites them to attend as spectators to enjoy “fun and food,” she says, and to sponsor others for any amount they can afford.

“I’ve had people sponsor me for $3, and I’ve had people sponsor me for $500,” she says, explaining, “it’s not important how we get the money, just that we get it.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #303 (Wednesday, April 29, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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